Rafael, Tony (Wally Fay)
Rafael, Tony (Wally Fay)
The Mexican Mafia, Encounter Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Writer of blog In the Hat, under pseudonym Wally Fay.
Tony Rafael is a journalist and author who has investigated the youth gangs of Southern California for many years. In 2006, while researching his first book, The Mexican Mafia, he uncovered what he claimed to be a declared race war on the part of Mexican American gangs under the control of the socalled Mexican Mafia to rid not only their memberships of blacks, but also their neighborhoods. Rafael called this policy a form of "ethnic cleansing" in an interview with Brentin Mock for the Southern Poverty Law Center—Intelligence Report. "This comes from the top," Rafael told Mock. "This comes from the shot callers." Asked by Mock about the motivation for such a policy, Rafael replied: "They don't want blacks in their neighborhoods. They say it makes their neighborhood look bad." Colorlines contributor Tarso Luís Ramos, however, noted that people should be aware that "Rafael's analysis may be colored by his apparent rightwing leanings." Ramos further dubbed Rafael "the most persistent purveyor of the ethnic cleansing frame."
The following year, Rafael published his nonfiction work on the Mexican Mafia, a crime group started in the 1950s by about twenty Mexican American gang members who found themselves incarcerated in a prison in Tracy, California. This organized crime group is also known as "La eMe," after the Spanish pronunciation of the letter m. Initially, the group was formed to protect Mexican Americans from other inmates, but the organization rapidly outgrew this initial mission to run much of the gang-originated street crime in and around Los Angeles. These criminal activities ranged from drug trafficking to murder. When, in the 1960s, officials in the Tracy prison finally discovered this criminal activity, they broke the group up by sending the members to different jails and prisons. However, this only served to spread the tentacles of the organization, for now these original members recruited new inmates to the Mexican Mafia in a wider net of prisons.
Some of the criminal founders of the Mexican Mafia took a sort of racial pride in differentiating themselves from the whites and blacks in prison; these Chicanos identified with ancient Aztec culture. As Rafael explained to Mock, one of the leaders of the Mexican Mafia during the 1970s, Rudolph Cheyenne Cardena, "wanted to change the Mexican Mafia into a political, socially active movement, and what he used for inspiration was the Aztec culture." To that end, Cardena even taught himself Nahuatl, the language of the ancient Aztecs, and influenced other members to do the same. Cardena was later killed by a competing gang, but the use of Nahuatl lives on as a sort of secret code for members of the Mexican Mafia. Though the organization is largely prison-based, it has succeeded in bringing many of the Mexican American gangs of the Los Angeles area under its sway. Gangs pay taxes to the Mexican Mafia if they are selling drugs on the streets. If people refuse to comply, they are dealt with on the street or when they are thrown into prison, as many gang members ultimately are. It is estimated currently that there are about 2,500 members in La eMe, some in prisons in California, and some on the streets. These individuals control an estimated 75,000 gang members.
Rafael's book does not attempt to give a complete history of the Mexican Mafia. Instead he focuses on the work of deputy district attorney Anthony Manzella, a long-time warrior against the gangs that belong to the Mexican Mafia. Rafael presents cases Manzella has worked on, particularly one from 2001, using them as a filter to tell the larger story of this criminal organization. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found The Mexican Mafia "a revealing but flawed work." The same reviewer praised the competent way that Rafael traced the birth and development of these gangs but thought the author "fails to dramatize his overly detailed account of Manzella's trials."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Publishers Weekly, May 28, 2007, review of The Mexican Mafia, p. 50.
Reference & Research Book News, August, 2007, review of The Mexican Mafia.
Colorlines,http://www.colorlines.com/ (March 22, 2008), Tarso Luís Ramos, "L.A. Story."
Southern Poverty Law Center—Intelligence Report,http://www.splcenter.org/ (March 22, 2008), Brentin Mock, "Gauging the Gangs."
Tony Rafael Home Page,http://www.tonyrafael.com (March 22, 2008).